Recently, I worked with an SVP of Sales at a large technology company. He requested as part of a larger engagement around sales transformation that The Alexander Group conduct a sales time survey of his direct, field sales force. In addition to the information typically gleaned in such a study (how much time reps spend engaged with customers vs. prospecting vs. on administrative tasks, etc.), this SVP wanted to know how often field reps engaged with customers via phone instead of in-person. The answer was eye-opening; the 1,300+ direct field reps in the survey estimated that about 70 percent of their contact time with customers was over the phone, e-mail, or video conference. The finding provokes an intriguing set of questions: If field reps are spending so much “virtual” time with customers, what implications does that have for our traditional inside sales force? More fundamentally, what is the difference between field and inside sales?

The recent recession has caused a number of paradigm shifts within sales forces. Many are just beginning to recover to pre-recession headcount levels. Companies have slashed (and periodically frozen) travel and entertainment budgets while placing even greater scrutiny on how often and under which circumstances sales reps travel. In addition, improving technology plays an ever-expanding role in sales interaction. Video conferencing, e-mail and even social media have supplanted face-to-face meetings in many sales pursuits. Customers who were once more willing to give up their time to meet with vendors are increasingly stretched as their own organizations contract and responsibilities increase. Thus, the modern field sales, face-to-face organization is actually a virtual sales organization enabled with technology. In such an environment, it seems logical to ask what role, if any, traditional inside sales should play to complement or perhaps replace the role of the traditional direct sales force.

An interesting trend in the midst of all this change is that investment in inside sales is exploding. Estimates vary, but the preponderance of the data show that inside sales is growing at nearly twice the rate of field sales in several key industries, including technology, business services, financial services and traditional manufacturing. The reasons for this trend vary from company to company but tend to coalesce around several factors:

  1. Cost Reduction:  On average, a fully-loaded inside sales rep represents 33-50 percent of the cost of a fully-loaded field seller.
  2. Changing Customer Information and Behavior: Customers are much more well-informed due to increasingly available information via the Internet. Field reps must increasingly provide compelling business value to hold the attention of a C-level audience. As a result, many organizations are reducing their complement of traditional field-based features and benefits sellers.
  3. Consistency and Frequency of Contact: Field reps have notoriously short attention spans, in many cases, by design. Organizations want field reps focused on the next deal rather than bogged down in the “care and feeding” of existing customers. Paradoxically, post-sales value delivery to customers is more important than ever in many industries to keep competitors out and to maintain price levels. As a result, companies are increasingly utilizing inside sales resources in post-sales roles.
  4. Scarcity: The scarcity of selling resources increases the opportunity cost of meeting face-to-face. Many sales organizations seek to minimize this problem by keeping key sales pursuit team members centrally located to expand their collective reach. This is particularly true of Systems Engineers, Product Specialists, Solution Architects and other pre-sales technical support resources.
  5. The Race for Customer Acquisition:  As many companies move from product selling to service selling (particularly Tech Cloud and XAAS environments), there is an increasing need to acquire new customers below the Enterprise Level (e.g., Mid-Market). By definition, this activity is lower-yield, requires more activity to generate success and is more suited to inside environments. On average, a properly configured inside rep can conduct 5x as many sales calls and over 15x the number of prospecting calls per day as an average field rep.

To return to a question posed earlier in the article, if field reps are conducting the majority of their customer-facing time virtually, what is the difference between field and inside sales? The best answer, simply stated, is that best-in-class inside sales is programmatic, while even virtual field sales activity tends to be more ad-hoc and situational. Inside sales follows a schedule or a cadence designed to optimize their productivity. Technology enablement and repetition allows inside reps to ascend learning curves faster and create a more consistent experience for the customer than their field counterparts, creating a competitive advantage for those companies that utilize inside sales proficiently.

The most commonly asked question when working with a client relatively new to the inside sales function is, “I know I need inside sales in my organization, but what should I have them doing? In which types of roles are other mature inside sales investing?” While understanding the right inside roles for an organization requires a thorough review of that organization’s go-to-market strategy, there are clearly some trends emerging in the types of roles companies are building within their inside sales groups. In chronological order of involvement in the customer /prospect life cycle, those roles include:

Role: Mid-Market Inside Opportunity Generation Rep (IOGR)

Description:

  • Inside rep specializing in identifying product and service opportunities in Mid-Market segment (below Enterprise)
  • Primarily responsible for converting qualified opportunities into revenue (working with a field or inside sales partner)
  • Communicates value to customers and qualifies beyond BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) [e.g., convinces customers of the unique value vendor’s product or service provides in addition to BANT]

Profile:

  • Ideal candidate typically has some sales experience, but excellent, discernible sales aptitude

Role: Inside Sales Specialist (ISS)

Description:

  • Inside rep specializing in pre-sales technical support on multiple point products or solutions
  • Primarily responsible for converting qualified, point-product opportunities into revenue (works with a field partner)
  • Strong technical and value valence around the point products or solutions they cover
  • Doesn’t carry organic quota
  • May support Renewal Reps on product and service renewals

Profile:

  • Ideal candidate is a former field sales engineer or other technical resource that enjoys sales pursuit but wants to cut down on travel

Role: Inside Customer Success Manager (ICSM)

Description:

  • Inside rep responsible for driving onboarding and adoption of solutions in customer environment
  • Ensures solutions / products are creating value for customers – monitors and tracks solution usage remotely
  • Coordinates project management for installs
  • Provides a single point of post-sales accountability for vendor with customers
  • Works with inside and field reps to uncover opportunities for upsell / cross-sell in existing accounts
  • Creates a hedge against competitive threats

Profile:

  • Ideal candidate is a technically capable, customer-service professional with appetite and acumen to move into sales

A review of the jobs above indicates that organizations are increasingly using inside sales to support customers and prospects throughout the life cycle, from acquisition to post-sales support and value creation. The common threads that make these functions ideal to support in an inside environment are repetition of activity and cadence and the need to extend expertise virtually throughout the selling organization.

The collective experience of Alexander Group consultants clearly indicates that top organizations are increasingly and aggressively using inside sales to gain a competitive advantage. Companies will continue to push precious field resources to value-intensive customer engagement activities such as customer ideation, innovation and value creation in an effort to maximize profitability. This leaves many core sales functions traditionally performed by the field uncovered. Properly deployed, inside sales provides a profitable, efficient avenue to perform critical sales tasks more efficiently and effectively than ever before. In short, successful organizations are those that continue to raise the bar on what field and inside sales can do collectively as part of a more profitable go-to-market engine.

How are you leveraging inside sales in your organization? Learn more about how you can assess the need and deploy inside sales roles.

Categories:

Insight type: Article

Industry: Cross-Industry

Role: C-Suite, Sales and Marketing Leadership

Topic: Inside Sales